The 'biographical turn' in university sociology teaching: A Bernsteinian analysis

Monica Mclean, Andrea Abbas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


Little is known about what happens to disciplinary knowledge when it is taught in contemporary UK universities of different status. Here, Basil Bernstein's theories are applied to what sociology lecturers say about teaching, demonstrating that in conditions in which students are less likely to engage with sociological theory, lecturers, particularly in universities of lower status, employ 'biographical methods' to ensure that a 'core' of sociology remains intact and sociology is reproduced in students. Students' lives are used as subject matter to teach the relevance and value of sociology. Attention is drawn to how, while this pedagogic strategy might result in a powerless form of 'pop sociology', in this case, lecturers bring theory, student research and application into a dynamic relationship which unexpectedly suggests that, at present, sociology might be more easily preserved in the less prestigious universities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-539
Number of pages11
JournalTeaching in Higher Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


  • Basil Bernstein
  • Biographical pedagogy
  • Social class
  • Teaching sociology


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